Wellbutrin is a medication primarily used to treat depression, but some people may experience side effects like anxiety and panic attacks.

Wellbutrin is the brand name for the drug bupropion hydrochloride, an aminoketone class antidepressant, FDA-approved for the treatment of major depressive disorder.

Though bupropion formulations can be effective for depression treatment and smoking cessation, some people may experience mental health-related side effects like increased anxiety, irritability, restlessness, and agitation.

In some cases, you may experience panic attacks when taking Wellbutrin, which may make you consider stopping your prescription. Discussing the pros and cons with a health team is highly advisable before you suspend your medication.

Wellbutrin brand isn’t directly linked to panic attacks. However, a small percentage of people taking the drug may experience a sudden and significant increase in levels of anxiety, which may resemble symptoms of a panic attack.

In clinical trials with people taking Wellbutrin, anxiety and other symptoms of unease were sometimes intense enough to warrant treatment with sedatives or hypnotic drugs, and approximately 2% of people discontinued Wellbutrin due to the severity of these symptoms.

What does a panic attack feel like?

Panic attacks can feel different for everyone, but often include:

  • sudden, overwhelming fear or anxiety
  • a sense of impending doom
  • feeling out of control
  • chest constriction or pain
  • sweating
  • nausea
  • racing heart rate
  • a sense of suffocation or inability to breathe

It’s possible to experience a panic attack without being diagnosed with a mental health condition. If panic attacks are frequent and negatively impact your daily life, you may be living with a condition known as panic disorder.

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Zyban and panic attacks

Zyban is another brand of bupropion hydrochloride. Unlike Wellbutrin, however, Zyban is approved for use in smoking cessation treatments.

Zyban comes with a warning that says it’s possible to experience feelings of panic or exacerbated psychiatric illness during or after smoking cessation treatment.

Due to the similarity in drug formulations, Wellbutrin’s label makes specific mention of the link between Zyban and panic symptoms.

If you live with an anxiety disorder, it’s not uncommon to experience increased anxiety symptoms shortly after you start taking Wellbutrin.

These symptoms can be mild, or in rare cases, they may be severe enough to feel mimic or cause a panic attack.

Overall, however, systematic review and meta-analysis research suggests the chance of anxiety symptoms worsening on Wellbutrin is similar to that of other antidepressant medications.

Along with anxiety, Wellbutrin has been known to increase other feelings of unease, such as:

  • restlessness
  • agitation
  • insomnia

It’s unclear whether bupropion is effective for panic attack management. Bupropion isn’t approved by the FDA for the treatment of anxiety or panic attacks, and research into this application of use is limited.

In 2011, a case study found a mid-range dose of bupropion effectively reduced panic disorder symptoms in a 47-year-old man who had previously seen minimal improvement on traditional medications.

A 2020 review into anxiety medications noted evidence for the use of bupropion in panic disorder was conflicting and noted only one pilot controlled trial from 2008 existed to support its use for generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).

Best medication for panic attacks

There’s no “magic pill” when it comes to panic attacks. The best medication will be the one that fits your unique situation.

There are several options available for the management of panic attacks.

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) are classes of antidepressant medications considered first-line treatment options for the symptoms of panic disorder.

Common prescriptions include:

  • Prozac
  • Paxil
  • Effexor XR

It may take several weeks for you to see symptom improvement while on SSRIs or SNRIs.

For immediate relief when a panic attack hits, benzodiazepines may be the best option for many people. Due to the potential for dependency, however, these medications are used with extreme caution.

Common prescriptions include:

  • Xanax
  • Klonopin
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Like most medications, Wellbutrin can cause a variety of side effects, varying in severity.

The most common side effects include:

  • constipation
  • nervousness
  • dry mouth
  • trouble sleeping
  • nausea
  • headache
  • vomiting
  • shakiness (tremors)

Less common side effects include:

  • irregular/racing heartbeat
  • skin rash
  • weight loss
  • excessive sweating
  • sedation
  • blurred vision

Wellbutrin may cause rare but potentially serious side effects including:

Most common side effects of all bupropion medications

Wellbutrin is just one form of bupropion available. A 2020 review indicates more than 10% of people taking bupropion medications experience the following side effects:

  • racing heartbeat
  • nasal congestion
  • sore throat
  • insomnia
  • headache
  • agitation
  • dizziness
  • weight loss
  • abnormal sweating
  • constipation
  • dry mouth
  • nausea
  • tremors
  • blurred vision

Although rare, Wellbutrin may cause anxiety symptoms severe enough to feel like a panic attack. Other brands of bupropion, like Zyban, do come with panic symptom-specific warning labels.

Wellbutrin is a brand name form of bupropion hydrochloride. Under this label, it’s approved for the treatment of major depressive disorder only.